Days 1-10. 10 Amazing Days in China
From Beijing, we travel into the countryside to walk along the Great Wall. An overnight train transfers attention to the ancient city of Xian, where we see the famous Terracotta Warriors, old city walls, towers and pagodas.
For over 400 years, massive caravans left the safety of Xian through its West Gate, and began epic trading journeys along the Silk Road to Central Asia and beyond. Our journey follows those camel routes. At Dunhuang, an oasis edging the Taklamakan Desert, formerly a resting stop for traders, and a point where Islam, Christianity and Buddhism entered China, we visit the incredible Mogao Caves ('Caves of the Thousand Buddhas'). Through the desert, Muslim influences are strong. At Turpan, we visit a fascinating bazaar, the ancient cliff top city of Jiaohe, and learn about ancient irrigation. Farther west, in Kashgar - one of the most important Silk Road cities - we learn of 'Great Game' intrigue when disguised spies from British India were sent to closely monitor Muslim sentiments, and Russian intentions; both perceived threats to their Indian empire. Today, Kashgar's Sunday markets fascinates travellers with incredible characters, riotous colours and myriad stalls.
Days 11 - 14. Across the Tien Shan Mountains
We follow the Irkeshtam Pass through the Tien Shan Mountains, to Kyrgyzstan for Sary Tash, to stay in local homes. We visit Osh - one of Central Asia's oldest cities dating back over 2,500 years - where the aroma of shashlik sizzling on street side grills fills the air. Entering Uzbekistan, we find rarely-visited Fergana Valley villages famed for silk weaving and pottery prior to arriving in Tashkent.
Days 15-28. Samarkand, Bukhara and Iran
In Samarkand, we marvel at the Registan - Central Asia's most spectacular architectural ensemble with its azure topped domes and minarets - before crossing the Kyzyl Kum Desert to find the mud brick monuments of the ancient holy city of Bukhara, some of the oldest on the Silk Road.
We cross the Kara Kum Desert in Kazakhstan to the oasis city of Mary and the ruins of Merv - one of the greatest of all Silk Road cities. Traditional red Turkmen carpets draw the eye in Ashgabat's Tolkuchka Bazaar, before the Kopet Dag mountains lead to Iran, and its most holy city Mashhad where the incredible shrine complex of Emam Reza, is one of the wonders of the Islamic world. Isfahan's distinctive blue-tiled buildings, covered bazaar, and atmospheric tea-houses are next.
Northwards, we spend time in the bustling capital of Tehran; and at Tabriz - at the crossroads of Persia and the Caucasus - we enjoy the carpet bazaar, the 15th century Blue Mosque and the rock-hewn village of Kandovan.
Days 29-40. New Dimensions in Armenia and Georgia
The Caucasus region was at the crossroads of trade and conquest. It is famed for its hospitality, fine wines, spas, and refreshing mountain scenery; and there is time to enjoy them all. Armenia has early Christian monuments and hidden monasteries to discover. Georgia's lively but ancient capital of Tbilisi offers a charming old town centre.
Leaving the mountains, we visit Gori - the birthplace of Stalin. Later, Vardzia becomes a journey highlight, where a monastery of 3,000 caves runs along a mountain cliff for some 500 metres and stretches over 19 tiers. Entering Turkey, we board a train to Ankara, and onwards to Istanbul.
Day 41 - Istanbul - Journey Concludes
Adorned with treasures from all periods of human history, Istanbul is not only one of the world's most fascinating places, it is also one of its most mesmerising. We spend our last morning of this epic journey exploring Istanbul's must-see sights in Sultanahmet before we say farewell to our fellow travellers as our journey concludes.